The Delaware judicial branch operates in conjunction with the executive and legislative branches of the Delaware state government to ensure law and order in the state. The state judiciary is responsible for upholding the tenets of the state statutes by adjudicating criminal and civil cases within state limits. To foster transparency, the administrative office of each state and all federal appellate courts generate Delaware court records to provide an official account of each Delaware judicial proceeding. These records are made available to members of the public on request.
Delaware’s court system comprises the Supreme Court, Court of Chancery, Superior Court, Family Court, Court of Common Pleas, and the Justice of the Peace Court. There are also federal courts in Delaware that preside over federal cases and matters pertaining to federal law within state limits.
What is the Delaware Supreme Court?
The Delaware Supreme Court is the final decider of most cases in Delaware. It has the highest court and judicial authority in the state and reviews decisions made by lower courts. The court was established in 1951 and had three justices at inception. In 1978, an amendment to the Delaware Constitution increased the number of Supreme Court justices to five, including one Chief Justice. They are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Delaware Senate to serve for 12 years. Constitutionally, three of the Supreme Court justices must represent one of the two major political parties, while the other two must belong to the other political party. The Delaware supreme court derives its powers from Article IV of the Delaware Constitution. Only a federal court can hear appeals from the state supreme court.
Delaware Court of Chancery
The Court of Chancery in Delaware is modeled after the British court system. It was created in 1792 to have jurisdiction over equity cases. Equity cases are disputes that need the court to find common ground that is fair to all parties involved. Disputes involving mergers and acquisitions, contractual disagreements, trusts, estates, matters relating to the sale of lands, and titles to real estate are some of the suits handled by the Court of Chancery. One Chancellor and six Vice Chancellors preside over the Court of Chancery. Chancellors are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate to serve a renewable term of 12 years.
Delaware Superior Courts
The Delaware Superior Court was established in 1951 to have jurisdiction over both civil and criminal cases. Civil cases under the purview of the Court of Chancery and domestic cases handled by the Family Court are not heard by the Superior Courts. The court also hears appeals of cases decided by the lower courts. A total of 19 judges, including a President Judge, sits in sessions across the three counties of Delaware to preside on proceedings. The judges are appointed by the governor and serve a renewable 12-year tenure. A Delaware superior court is considered a trial court of general jurisdiction. They hear most cases in the state, including criminal offenses that attract the death penalty as punishment. There are no limits to the value of disputed agreements in civil cases brought before the Superior Courts. The Superior Court serves as an intermediate appellate court, reviewing rulings of the lower courts. Decisions of the Superior Courts are appealed at the Delaware Supreme Court.
Delaware Family Courts
Family Courts in Delaware gained full recognition by the Delaware Constitution in 1971. The court has general jurisdiction over cases involving minors. It handles suits such as neglect of minors, child abuse, adoption of minors, and child support. Some adult disputes like misdemeanor between former spouses or those between persons who have a child together but living separately are also tried at the Family Court. The court does not hear cases involving minors charged with first-degree or second-degree murder, rape, or kidnapping. The court has 17 judges, including a Chief Judge who presides over proceedings at the court. These Judges are spread across the state, with ten of them stationed at New Castle County. Kent County and Sussex County have three Family Court judges each. They all serve for 12 years and are eligible for reappointment.
Delaware Court of Common Pleas
The Delaware Court of Common Pleas has jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases, including misdemeanor drug cases and motor vehicle offenses. Civil cases in which the disputed amount does not exceed $75,000 are also brought before the Court of Common Pleas. The court has nine judges, including a Chief Judge and two Commissioners at its helm of affairs. The judges, all serving 12-year tenures, are spread across Delaware. Five of them reside in New Castle County. Kent and Sussex Counties have two judges each. The counties also share the two Commissioners, with one at New Castle County, while the other Commissioner serves both Kent and Sussex Counties. The Delaware Court of Common Pleas has jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases, including misdemeanor drug suits, and those involving motor vehicles. The court also handles preliminary hearings for felony cases and receives appeals from the Justice of the Peace Courts. Civil cases with a value of $75,000 or less and administrative appeals from the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) are equally heard by this court. The Delaware Court of Common Pleas currently has nine judges appointed by the governor for a 12-year term and two Commissioners whose duty is to dispense justice.
Delaware Justice of the Peace Court
The Delaware Justice of the Peace Courts was co-opted into the Delaware court system in 1965. It has jurisdiction over some criminal misdemeanor cases and motor vehicle accident cases that did not lead to injuries or deaths. The court also has jurisdiction over civil cases where the disputed amount does not exceed $25,000. Appeals of decisions made by the Justice of the Peace Court can be filed for a new trial at the Court of Common Pleas. Also, appeals of disputes between landlords and tenants are heard by the Justice of the Peace Court. The court judges fear appeal in a panel of three members. The Justice of the Peace Court in Delaware currently consists of 286 personnel, including magistrates, who are distributed across 16 courts in 14 different locations.
At the bottom of the Delaware court system is the Justice of the Peace Court. It has jurisdiction over civil disputes where the value of controversy does not exceed $25,000. Civil suits such as debt recovery, trespass, recovery of properties, and all landlord-tenant disputes are brought before the Justice of the Peace Courts. Most criminal disputes also pass through the Justice of the Peace Courts at entry-level. Additionally, the court hears motor vehicle cases where death or injury is not involved and other suits enumerated in the statutes. Decisions of the Delaware Justice of the Peace Courts are appealed to the Court of Common Pleas. However, exceptions are made for disputes involving landlords and tenants, which are appealed to a three-member panel of the same Justice of the Peace Court. There are currently 16 Justice of the Peace Courts in the state, distributed across 14 locations, with 286 personnel and about 60 Judges.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in Delaware?
Appeals refer to requests by dissatisfied parties in court cases for review of lower courts’ decisions by higher courts. After judgment is passed, displeased parties can file an appeal with a court of higher authority. Civil cases tried at the Family Courts are appealed to the Supreme Court, while appeals on criminal cases are filed at the Superior Court. An appeal must be filed within 30 days after the order to be appealed has been entered to a superior court in the same county as the court that made the decision.
Decisions made by the Court of Common Pleas are appealed to the Superior Court. The Superior Court does not conduct new trials of cases appealed to it. Instead, it reviews transcripts of proceedings of the initial trial and checks for any error that may have been committed while making a decision. Grieving parties in civil cases decided by the Justice of the Peace Courts have the right to file appeals for a new trial at the Court of Common Pleas. This excludes landlord-tenant disputes that are only appealed to a panel of three judges of the Justice of the Peace Courts. A notice of appeal must be filed within 15 days after the entry of a decision. Fees paid to appeal decisions of the Justice of the Peace Courts at the Court of Common Pleas include a non-refundable $135 filing fee. There is also a $30 fee covering the sheriff’s cost for each address being served a notice of appeal. An additional $5 fee is paid if persons being served are at the same address.
The Supreme Court reviews final judgments of the Courts of Chancery, the Superior Courts, and the Family Courts. The notices of appeals must be filed within 30 days after decisions have been entered by trial courts. The court only grants an extension if there is a delay caused by it. It costs a non-refundable fee of $510 to file an appeal at the Supreme Court. Indigents and poor residents can apply for a waiver under the “forma pauperis” motion. This waiver only applies to the compulsory $510 filing fee if approved. Any other money that has to be paid regarding the appeal process must be paid. It usually takes about 90 days to conclude an appeal case at the Delaware Supreme Court.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Delaware?
The civil case search docket allows interested persons to search civil cases of the Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas, and the Justice of the Peace Courts. Requestors can find case information on CourtConnect, a case management system, and then retrieve case numbers of their cases of interest. Names of parties involved in the suit and the status of the proceedings can be used to find information on a court case, including case numbers. A Delaware court database also offers requestors an avenue to find court case numbers. They may browse the database and search for their cases of interest using parameters such as type of case, the court that tried the case, and the year final judgment was made.
Does Delaware Hold Remote Trials?
The Delaware court system responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by introducing video conferencing for some court proceedings, especially non-jury trials. In one of its orders, the Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court mandates all the state trial courts to use video conferencing for proceedings, except for jury trials. Another directive by the Supreme Court outlined the different parts of court proceedings expected to be heard using video conferencing technology.